I recently came across a book titled, 501 Must-Read Books. I have no idea how the author came up with their 501 books, but it made me think: what books would I include on a “must-read” list?
I was given a chance to consider this after moving into a new house recently. As I was setting up my office I was trying to down-size my library. There were some books that would obviously not make the list, as I had an easy time throwing them in my “donate-to-the-thrift-store” box. Others made me pause and think about whether it was a book that I might want to glance through again. Some easily made it onto my shelves because they had made an impact on my life and ministry and I did not want to part with them.
Here are twenty-eight books that have impacted me, in no specific order:
The Christian Atheist: Believing in God but Living as If He Doesn’t Exist, Craig Groeschel (2010)
The Red Sea Rules: 10 God-Given Strategies for Difficult Times, Robert J. Morgan (2014)
Sacred Pathways, by Gary Thomas (1996)
Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, by Jim Cymbala (1997)
A Hunger for God: Desiring God Through Fasting and Prayer, by John Piper (1997)
Visioneering: God’s blueprint for developing and maintaining personal vision, by Andy Stanley (1999)
Fusion: Turning First-Time Guests into Fully-Engaged Members of Your Church, by Nelson Searcy with Jennifer Dykes Henson (2007)
Leading On Empty, by Wayne Cordeiro (2009)
And: The Gathered and Scattered Church, by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay (2010)
The Empowerment Pivot: How God is Redefining Our View of Normal, by Douglas A. Balzer (2020)
Divine Appointments, by Bob Jacks and Matthew R. Jacks, with Pam Mellskog (2002)
Who Moved My Pulpit? by Thom S. Rainer (2016)
Deep & Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend, by Andy Stanley (2012)
No Little Places: The Untapped Potential of the Small-Town Church, by Ron Klassen and John Koessler (1996)
How to Thrive as a Small-Church Pastor, by Steve R. Bierly (1988)
The Monday Morning Church: Out of the Sanctuary and Into the Streets, by Jerry Cook (2006)
Communicating for Change, by Andy Stanley and Lane Jones (2006)
The Treasure Principle: Discovering the Secret of Joyful Giving, by Randy Alcorn (2001)
The Other Six Days: Vocation, Work, and Ministry in Biblical Perspective, by R, Paul Stevens (1999)
With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God, by Skye Jethani (2011)
Red Moon Rising: How 24-7 Prayer is Awakening a Generation, by Pete Greig and Dave Roberts (2003)
Prayer Coach: For All Who Want to Get Off the Bench and Onto the Praying Field, by James L. Nicodem (2008)
Leadership Coaching: The Disciplines, Skills, and Heart of a Christian Coach, by Tony Stoltzfus (2005)
Transforming Church in Rural America: Breaking all the Rurals, by Shannon O’Dell (2010)
Don’t Invite Them to Church: Moving From a Come and See to a Go and Be Church, by Karen Wilk (2010)
Boondock Church: Small town – Massive Potential, Tony Warriner (2019)
Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, Chip & Dan Heath (2010)
Every Man’s Battle, Stephen Arterburn, Fred Stoeker, and Mike Yorkey (2000)
Those are 28 of my favorites, to name a few. Some of these have impacted me recently, others impacted me years ago, and I still remember being challenged as I read them.
If you were to create your own “must-read” books list, which books would you include?
Let me know in the comments – I’m always interested in recommencations!
Keep looking up,
I hope I don’t have to convince you that prayer needs to be a priority in your church. If I do, just take some time to skim through the gospels and notice how many times and circumstances you see Jesus praying. He gives thanks for a lunch, teaches the disciples the “Lord’s Prayer”, prays for future believers, and on and on. If the Son of God felt the need to talk with his Father that much, then we should follow that example. If that is not enough, then search “prayer” on your Bible app and you will see the many times Paul taught about it. We know prayer is important, so, I am going to focus on the many ways you can make prayer a priority in your church, teaching it and practicing it.
1. Pray During Church Services
I visited a church, where the sermon was teaching on prayer and I could not recall them praying even once in the service. Open in prayer, pray for missions, offer a Pastoral Prayer, give a prayer of thanksgiving for the offering, and close with a benediction prayer.
2. Offer Prayer Following the service
Many churches give opportunity for people to come to the front or to a side room for prayer following the service. They may have heard God speak and need to spend some time in prayer or have a leader pray with them.
3. Preservice Prayer
I like the idea of people praying before the service, sometimes with all who are involved in the service. I have a caution though; I think it is very valuable for the pastor to be greeting members and newcomers before the service, so do your preservice prayer early enough that you are done in time to be available to greet people as they arrive.
4. Prayer Night
It might be good to have an occasional or regular night of prayer. You could teach a little on prayer, and then focus the rest of the time on actually praying.
5. Prayer Trios
Ask people to commit to pray with two others weekly for a certain extended period of time. They could meet at any time that is good for them for fifteen minutes or more, praying for a specific concern.
6. Small Group Prayer
If your church has small groups, encourage them to regularly have a time of prayer for and with each other.
7. Elders/ Leadership Team Prayer
Make prayer a regular part of each meeting you have with the leadership team, elders, deacons or board. Pray about your agenda, pray for specific programs and people each time you meet. Or have a monthly meeting dedicated to praying for the church.
8. Plan a Prayer Emphasis
There have been a few times where I led our church in a three-week prayer emphasis with preaching on prayer on the Sundays around it. I prepared special prayer guides for each person prepared to give direction as they prayed.
9. Teach on Prayer
Teach your congregation how to pray. You could even preach through the Lord’s Prayer which Jesus used to teach his disciples to pray!
10. Prayer Chain
The Prayer Chain was a staple in some of the churches I pastored. One person received the prayer request and then passed it on down the line, phoning the next person who phoned the next person. Today we can just email or phone everyone at once, but find a way to quickly inform your congregation of prayer needs. Use this often and regularly.
11. Pray with People
When you visit with Christian friends, take time to pray together. When someone asks you to pray for them, do it. Do it right then with them, and then commit to praying for them.
12. Pray Prayers of Dedication and Commission
There are many occasions of celebration, dedication, and commission in a church and each of these events are great opportunities to pray and ask God’s blessing, direction, and presence be involved.
- Every September I invited all who were going to serve in the church in the next year to stand, or even come to the front, and we prayed a prayer of commissioning for them for the role they were taking on for the next year.
- When we had missionaries come speak at the church, who were heading overseas shortly, we would pray for them as well.
- I love Child Dedications and enjoy praying a blessing on the child incorporating the meanings of the child’s name.
- It’s important to pray for those who have just been baptized to protect them from Satan’s attacks, like the ones Jesus faced after his baptism.
13. Pray for Healing
This is sometimes a scary thing to do, but pray for those who are sick. They may be healed, and they may not be healed. But scripture makes it clear, Jesus healed people in the Bible. James teaches that prayer should be part of the church, specifically calling on the elders of the church to pray. Go to those who call you to pray for them, or have times where you specifically invite people to come forward for prayer for healing after a service. Sometimes we would connect this to a Communion Service.
There are many creative ways to pray, teach prayer, and lead in prayer.. Make prayer a priority by doing it.
Keep looking up!
During one of our breaks from pastoral ministry, I learned to drive a school bus. It was definitely an interesting experience. When I was about to complete the season, another driver commented that I had lasted very well on the worst run in the city. I picked up inner city kids and took them to school. Most of them came from difficult situations, but I tried to find ways of connecting with them and encouraging them.
As I was taking my training for my Class 2 license, which you need to drive a bus, the instructor walked me through a detailed list of what to check each morning to ensure the bus was safe to drive. This is not unique to driving busses; truckers have a similar pre-trip check to do. Usually this is done with a memorized checklist, but when I was later driving bus for a different company, they had a specific checklist I had to go through and sign each morning.
Checklists help you to make sure you remember to check all the important things. This applies to many places in life.
I go through a mental checklist most evenings before I head to bed:
- Is my lunch prepared?
- Have I laid out my clothes for the next work day?
- Did I brush my teeth?
- Did I remember to take my medications?
- Did I set my alarm?
- Did I plug in my phone?
The list helps me to remember what I want to remember.
Checklists can help you to train new volunteers at church. Checklists are doubly useful in training, both for the trainer and the new volunteer. A checklist ensures the trainer knows exactly what training needs to take place. The checklist will remind them of what paperwork needs to be filled out, or what activities need to be practiced. The new volunteer can also be provided with a checklist to remind them what needs to be done.
Let’s pretend you are training a new worship leader. You can have them work alongside a current worship leader like an apprentice for a few weeks. The leader can make sure they are following the current checklist, a copy of which is then provided to the new volunteer. The checklist could look something like this:
- Get the theme and scripture from the speaker for that Sunday.
- Choose 5 songs that fit into that theme.
- Sort/find the music for all musicians that will be leading worship with you.
- Send the music titles (and music sheets) to all the worship staff and volunteers on your team.
- Practice the music yourself.
- Arrange practice time and practice with team during the week.
- Arrange for all the team to come early on Sunday to do Sound checks
Create lists according to the tasks that need to be done in each role, and encourage new volunteers to add to the list as they notice things that may have been missed.
I use a checklist like this in creating my sermons. I have a fairly long list that has certain comments and questions that help me think through my sermon from every aspect I think is important. Here are just a few things on my sermon checklist:
- Who is the original audience?
- How will this appeal to the 12-year-old boy in the pew?
- What practical application steps can I suggest?
- What are questions this scripture answers?
This list reminds me of what I have found to be important in the creating of a sermon. Some of them remind me of certain steps in my research. Other items remind me how to develop a good application at the end of the sermon. This is a list I have slowly compiled over the years, adding or adapting items as I discovered more steps I wanted to remember to use.
Checklists need to be open to adjustment. Sometimes a good book will encourage you to add another step. Over time some steps may be eliminated if they become irrelevant.
Checklists are a great tool to become better at what you do, to develop consistency, and to train new volunteers.
I’d love to hear about how checklists have helped you.
Keep looking up!